I spent nine years working in suicide intervention meeting people wherever they were at from the back of cop cars to tiny padded rooms to small ledges at the top of tall buildings where I would encounter some of the bravest and most amazing people I'd ever met.
I somehow think that director Mark Battle gets that, that there's a richness of humanity and humor and wonder lying beneath the surface of ordinary people lost somewhere between lives of hope and lives of quiet desperation.
Such is the case with Joe (Dean Temple) and Z (Andi Morrow), two seemingly lost souls who meet in the most unordinary of places and discover just a glimpse of that one thing I always strived to offer with every person that I met - hope.
Battle, working from a script co-written with Pamela Conway, beautifully captures the almost joy-filled resignation of a decision definitively made yet also the melancholy aura made by those living on that edge that I've long believed are the signs you only ever really see if you've ever really been there yourself. It's a difficult balance, a balance that seems to give Joe an ambiguity yet actually explains his true state of mind quite perfectly.
As Joe, Dean Temple gives a performance that is worn out and troubled and almost duty-filled in the way that he approaches the almost inevitability of his choice. He seems sure, but not quite, and he seems as if he's looking around at the world that surrounds him desperately looking for some sign of some sort. In Z, he finds that sign.
Andi Morrow's Z is seemingly even more resigned to her fate, yet in a way that sort of screams post-trauma meets personality disorder meets "I just can't take this shit anymore!" but I'll never give you the satisfaction of actually saying it. Morrow's performance while attending a Suicide Anonymous support group is one of cheeky bravado masking a soul filled with wounds crying out for attention yet repulsed by the notion of it. The group, led by a well-meaning and well spoken Bill (Timothy J. Cox), is the weakest part of the film precisely because such a setting is exactly the opposite of what these two actually need.
They need hope. They need authentic connection.
Together, have they found it?
Battle's lensing is warm and intimate yet also lends itself to the film's gentle, and occasionally not so gentle, humor. The film's production design is stellar and allows the viewer to be enfolded in an atmosphere that breathes humanity and honesty. The film's closing scenes are both tense yet exhilarating and feel as if we've been drawn in tightly into the emotional nesting being created by Andi and Z.
Here Lies Joe is a gem of a film, intimate and funny and dramatic and important. It's an honest film with people, especially the two leads, who feel like real people living real lives and looking for something as real as everything inside feels. If you get a chance, check it out.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic